The road to recovery

World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought 2021 focuses on 'Restoration. Land. Recovery' for survival of planet earth.


(Representational Image: Unsplash)

Today, June 17, 2021 is World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought which was first observed in 1994 with the aim to promote public awareness and efforts to combat desertification. This year’s theme is “Restoration. Land. Recovery”. It focuses on turning the degraded land into healthy land.

Restoring degraded land brings economic resilience, helps biodiversity to recover, creates jobs, raises incomes and increases food security. It can also lessen the impact of climate change and underpin a green recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nearly three quarters of the earth’s surface has been altered by humans to meet an ever-growing demand for food, raw materials, highways and homes. Avoiding, slowing and reversing the loss of productive land and natural ecosystems now is both urgent and important for a swift recovery from the pandemic and for guaranteeing the long-term survival of the human and the planet.

“Land restoration can contribute greatly to post-COVID-19 economic recovery. Investing in land restoration creates jobs and generates economic benefits, and could provide livelihoods at a time when hundreds of millions of jobs are being lost," says UNCCD Executive Secretary, Ibrahim Thia.

The causes of desertification include social, political, economic, and climatic factors that contribute to an unsustainable use of scarce natural resources. Deforestation is the root cause of climate change that triggers drought and desertification. When a degraded ecosystem is no longer capable of recovering from a stress period, a downward spiral of desertification may take place. It involves mechanisms such as excessive loss of soil, changes in vegetation, losses in terms of water quality and quantity, and changes in the regional climate system.

When the land degrades and stops being productive, natural spaces deteriorate and transform. Thus, greenhouse gas emissions increase and biodiversity of the area decreases. It also means there are fewer wild spaces to buffer zoonoses, such as COVID-19, and protect us from extreme weather events, such as droughts, floods, and sand and dust storms.

Land use change is the primary driver for emerging infectious diseases, and the rate of land conversion is accelerating. Moreover, the foundation for building back better in the face of climate change in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic will be centered upon future land-use decisions.

The ongoing pandemic has evolved into a complex emergency with significant humanitarian, socio-economic and security dimensions. The lives of billions around the globe are in turmoil, with the poor, vulnerable and marginalised communities suffering the most.

Actions based on clear understanding of rights, rewards and responsibilities of land management can help to address the COVID-19 fallout by tackling one of the primary environmental drivers of emerging infectious disease outbreaks.

At the same time, strengthening the resilience of our food and water systems can help reduce the effects of the pandemic on global poverty and food insecurity. Land use change is the primary transmission pathway for emerging infectious diseases of humans, over 60 per cent of which are zoonotic. 

No matter where you live, the consequences of desertification and drought always concern with us. The big quantum of deforestation in our state like Jhum, firewood, and poppy plantation etc. are going to cinder the state into a red dryland. Globally, 23 % of the land is no longer productive. Seventy five per cent has been transformed from its natural state, mostly for agriculture. This transformation in land use is happening at a faster rate than at any other time in human history, and has accelerated over the last 50 years. Scientists say the rate of evolution from one state to the next is so rapid; the process is now observable over very short periods.

Actually, we all depend on land; 99.9 per cent of the calories every human being needs for a healthy life still comes from the land. Land that is healthy and resilient is the first point of defense against diseases and disasters such as droughts and flashfloods, which are becoming more frequent, long and severe. The loss of more and more productive land is creating growing competition for land to meet the growing demand for goods and services and for ecosystem services that support life.

The next few decades will be the most critical in restoring land for a sustainable future. The problem is man-made, which means humans are also part of the solution.

Sustainable land management is everyone’s business. Together, we can restore the productivity of over 2 billion hectares of degraded land and improve the livelihoods of more than 1.3 billion people around the world. Land degradation, climate change and biodiversity losses are intimately connected, and are increasingly affecting human well-being. A decade of land degradation may create irreversible damage, but a decade of land restoration may bring multiple benefits.

Investing in nature-based solutions, specifically land restoration, will allow us to build forward better, greener, healthier, stronger, and more sustainably. Protecting and restoring nature can help drive a green recovery and prevent future pandemics. COVID-19 has revealed how vulnerable our societies and economies are to global, systemic risk. Its root causes - land degradation, biodiversity loss, and climate change – are interlinked. Furthermore, these are planetary crises in themselves. The pandemic, rooted as it is in exploitation of the environment, has been a devastating but timely wake-up call. It has shown that if we continue to abuse nature, waves of crises will cascade across our economies and societies. On the other hand, it has also shown that we can respond decisively when political will, collective action and sustained investment are aligned.

The pandemic has given us a rare opportunity to review and rethink the future we can create, a future of healthier citizens, secure livelihoods and greater equality and opportunity for all.

A drought with an event of prolonged shortages in the water has also a substantial impact on the ecosystem and agriculture of the affected region and harm to the local economy. It is among the earliest documented climatic events in the human history. Now, drought is a recurring feature of the climate in most parts of the world.

Frequent wild fires as reported in Manipur every year can also contribute to desertification when they affect natural vegetation. Vegetation and its diversity are instrumental in soil conservation and in the regulation of surface water and local climate. The disruption of the interlinked services that are provided by plant biodiversity is a key trigger for desertification and its various consequences, including the loss of habitats for other species.

Indeed, soil contain a lot of carbon which could be released into the atmosphere as a result of desertification, with significant consequences for the global climate system. It is estimated that each year 300 million tons of carbon are lost to the atmosphere from the soil as a result of desertification. This represents about four per cent of global emissions from all sources combined. Thus, environmental management approaches for combating desertification, conserving biodiversity, and mitigating climate change are linked in many ways.

Desertification is one of the greatest environmental challenges today. Restoration aims to reestablish a previous ecosystem state and all its functions and services, while rehabilitation seeks to repair specific parts of the systems, in order to regain ecosystem productivity. Therefore with the coming of this day, let’s stop cutting of trees. Let’s save our forests by planting many more trees wherever space we have in this coming monsoon to fight against dreaded diseases and to stop the degradation of our beautiful and high yielding land for the sake of the future generations.

(The views expressed are personal)

First Published:June 17, 2021, 9:46 a.m.

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